Rival bidders moving in on Canary Wharf

Canary Wharf, the landmark development which came to symbolise Thatcherite boom and bust, is being circled by potential bidders, the company announced yesterday.

Canary Wharf, the landmark development which came to symbolise Thatcherite boom and bust, is being circled by potential bidders, the company announced yesterday.

The board said it had been approached by "a number of parties to a possible offer for Canary Wharf" - with speculation centring on a management buy-out by the property group's senior executives, including chairman Paul Reichmann.

Brascan - the £4bn Canadian property group with substantial holdings in New York, Boston and Toronto - is thought to be the other bidder, having built up an investment worth 9% in Canary Wharf.

The company has formed an independent committee, headed by former Prudential chairman Sir Martin Jacomb, to examine the bids. The committee is being advised by investment bank Lazards and stockbroker Cazenove.

"Discussions are at a preliminary stage and may not lead to any transaction," the company warned.

The establishment of the independent committee was behind talk of a management buy-out for the cluster of office blocks in London's Docklands - on the grounds that if there had only been external bidders, these would have been dealt with by the company's full board.

"We suspect that one of the bidders is the management," said Andrew Penny, property analyst at JP Morgan.

Both Canary Wharf and Brascan refused to comment on the bid approaches, while shares in the company rose more than 40% after the board's announcement.

At the start of trading yesterday Canary Wharf's share price was 180p. It closed at 263p - valuing the company at £1.5bn.

So far this year, Canary Wharf's shares have languished, hampered by debts of more than £3bn, worries that the economic downturn could harm occupancy rates and revelations that it had granted tenants an option to return unwanted office space.

The company has also attracted controversy for its ac counting methods, which value its assets at their most optimistic level.

"It's noteworthy that the net asset value of the company as reported in its half-year figures is 551p," said Mr Penny.

"There's clearly an enormous difference between the [current] share price and the audited net asset value."

An internal bid could see Mr Reichmann retaking private control of the company. The Canary Wharf chairman was one of the Canadian brothers whose company, Olympia & York, first developed the Docklands site.

At its peak, the Reichmann family was reckoned to have a net worth of nearly $13bn, making them the fourth wealthiest family in the world. Together they owned 45m sq ft of office space.

Those riches were not enough to stop Olympia & York going into bankruptcy in 1993, after its banks refused to extend more credit.

The Canary Wharf property was then taken over by a consortium of banks and creditors in a £1bn rescue deal.

But Mr Reichmann regained control two years later with an £800m bid financed from sources that included Saudi royal prince Abdulaziz Al Saud, US billionaire Larry Tisch and Wall Street banker Edmund Safra - who was later killed in Monaco by a staff member.

A successful bid by Brascan would mirror an earlier takeover of a prestigious development by the Toronto-based company.

In 1993 Brascan, controlled by the wealthy Bronfman family, bought the World Financial Centre complex in Manhattan - which was also built by the Reichmann family's Olympia & York.

The highs and lows

July 1987 Olympia & York, headed by Reichmann brothers Paul, Albert and Ralph, takes over the Canary Wharf project.

May 1988 Construction begins on One Canada Tower, Canary Wharf's central office block and Britain's largest building.

August 1991 Investment bank State Street is the first tenant to move into the complex, but others are hard to find.

May 1992 O&Y goes into administration owing $20bn.

October 1993 Lloyds bank leads a consortium which puts together a rescue package.

October 1994 Working population at Canary Wharf reaches 10,000 people.

December 1995 Canary Wharf sold for £800m to group including Paul Reichmann and Prince al-Waleed.

November 1997 Newly elected prime minister Tony Blair holds a "Cool Britannia" summit with President Chirac at Canary Wharf.

April 1999 Canary Wharf Group floats, valuing the company at £2.2bn. In September, the Jubilee line tube station opens.

September 2000 Canary Wharf announces its first full-year profits, of £54m.

October 2000 The company enters the FTSE 100, valued at £3.8bn.

January 2001 Prince al-Waleed sells most of his stake for a 500% return on his investment. In June, the company announces plans to return £2bn to shareholders.

April 2003 Shares in Canary Wharf fall to a low of 130p as City sentiment and the economic outlook turn sour.

June 2003 Canary Wharf announces that it has attracted bid interest.


Richard Adams

The GuardianTramp

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